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Nuclear Savage: The Island of Secret Project 4.1 cover photo

Nuclear Savage: The Island of Secret Project 4.1 2011


Distributed by Distributed by The Video Project, PO Box 411376, San Francisco, CA 94141-1376; 800-475-2638
Produced by Produced by Adam Jonas Horowitz
Directed by Directed by Adam Jonas Horowitz
DVD , color, 88 min.

Jr. High - General Adult
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers

Date Entered: 02/19/2013

ALA Notable:
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Tom Ipri, Drexel University

Nuclear Savage focuses on atomic testing conducted by the United States near the Marshall Islands in the 1940s and 1950s and the secret human radiation experiments they conducted which were revealed through the release of formerly classified government documents. The film provides a good overview of the history of the tests; however, it does not provide much in the way of a larger context within the history of the Cold War which could be problematic for students unfamiliar with the era.

The key event of the film is the Bravo test at the Bikini Atoll after which dangerous levels of radioactive material drifted over inhabited islands. For years, the official story has been that there was a sudden and unexpected shift in the wind. The United States waited two days before evacuating the population and returned the islanders to their homes only three months later. U.S. scientists often returned to conduct tests. The declassified government documents revealed the existence of Project 4.1, which explicitly outlined plans to test the effects of radiation on the Marshallese people. In addition, archival footage and current interviews with survivors complete a grisly tale. Some of the archival footage is shockingly racist in the way it portrays the Marshallese as savages.

The latter parts of the film focus on the efforts of Tony DeBrum, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Marshall Islands, who goes to U.N. for nuclear non-proliferation treaty to share the story, fighting for justice as he outlines broken U.S. promises for healthcare and environmental clean up. He leaves frustrated at the lack of response and filmmaker Horowitz is met with refusals to have officials speak on camera.

The film also covers some of the history of the U.S. involvement in the South Pacific and places the current issues in the context of colonization.

The story portrayed in Nuclear Savage is fascinating, angering and frustrating but one worth seeing. The DVD contains both 60 and 87 minute versions of the film. The shorter version captures all the essential elements of the story. The longer version provides additional details but nothing that alters the experience.


  • Audience Award for Best Film at the CinemaPlaneta International Film Festival just held in Cuernavaca and Mexico City, Mexico. April, 2012
  • Jury Prise for Best Feature Documentary Film at the Paris/ FIFE International Festival of Environmental Films in Paris, France. February, 2012
  • Jury Prize at the Chicago 'Peace on Earth' Film Festival. February, 2012